OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Supporters of an initiative petition that would have allowed large grocery stores in Oklahoma's largest counties to sell wine withdrew it from circulation Friday and vowed to re-file it next year.
The attorney for Oklahomans for Modern Laws, Lee Slater, said legal proceedings surrounding a formal protest against the proposed constitutional amendment had delayed the start of the 90-day period in which supporters needed to obtain 155,216 signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the protest and authorized the proposal on June 28 , giving supporters until late September to gather the signatures. But state law requires they be counted by the Secretary of State's Office, verified by the Supreme Court and subject to a 10-day protest period during which the validity of signatures could be challenged, Slater said.
The process would likely continue well into October and beyond the time State Election Board officials need to assemble ballot issues for printing on paper ballots.
Brian Howe, director of Oklahomans for Modern Laws, said supporters still believe the issue is important for the growth and development of the state.
"Unfortunately, the protest of this question made the timing incredibly difficult for this election cycle," Howe said in a statement. "Instead of rushing this thing, we want to show the necessary due diligence and take time to educate the public on the importance of this constitutional change."
In addition, 2013 is not an election year and the wine-in-grocery-stores issue will be more dominant than it would have been this year.
"We will continue to gain support from individuals and businesses throughout the state, and we look forward to bringing the wine-in-grocery-stores issue to the voters of Oklahoma," Howe said.
The proposal is opposed by liquor retailers and other groups. The president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, J.P. Richard, vowed to file a new protest if the petition is re-filed.
"If it ever does end up on the 2014 ballot, there's very little merit in their case," Richard said. "When we finally go to the public, they will have a difficult time getting it passed in the state."
Currently, wine sales are restricted by the state Constitution to licensed retail package liquor stores, although the state's more than 60 wineries are permitted to sell their own vintages in their tasting rooms.
The initiative petition proposes a new wine license to permit the retail sale of wine for off-premises consumption by grocery stores, superstores, supermarkets and warehouse clubs that have at least 25,000 square feet of floor space. Convenience stores would be excluded.
Grocery store wine sales would be restricted to 15 Oklahoma counties whose populations are more than 50,000 and would have to be approved in advance in countywide votes. The hours and days wine could be sold in grocery stores would be the same as retail liquor outlets, meaning sales would be barred on Sundays and certain holidays.
Supporters say the measure would make it more convenient for Oklahomans to purchase a bottle of wine while shopping for groceries, a privilege that residents of more than 30 other states enjoy. If approved, the proposal would bring about one of the biggest changes to Oklahoma liquor laws since Prohibition was repealed in 1959 and liquor-by-the-drink was allowed in bars and nightclubs on a county-option basis in 1984.